Over the past couple of years, I have taken it upon myself to tackle one of the primary reasons the “sex offender” registry, residency restrictions, and other post-release sanctions continue to proliferate in America – the victim advocacy industry. At great risk to my own personal safety and freedom, I have been a vocal critic of multimillion dollar corporations whose only business is promoting victimhood and using that victimhood as a justification to push for tougher sanctions against individuals who have completed their sentences. In particular, the two groups that I have critiqued the most are the Suffolk County, NY-based Parents for Megan’s Law (PFML), run by Laura Ahearn, and Miami-based Lauren’s Kids, run by lobbyist Ron Book and his victim-turned-state Senator, Lauren Book.
There are a lot of similarities between these two groups. Both have wielded considerable power in their corners of the United States, using the power of victim status to push for some of the toughest “sex offender” registry and community notification laws in the country. In many ways, both Suffolk County, NY and Miami-Dade County, FL are alike in boasting some of the toughest anti-registrant laws in the country. Miami became an international embarrassment by forcing registered citizens to live under the Julia Tuttle Causeway for many years, until they were forced to move to a number of isolated locations across the county. In Long Island, PFML managed to become the first victim advocacy group to enter a contract with local authorities to obtain the power to conduct registry compliance checks. As a result of these actions, registered citizens living in both Miami and Long Island have experienced considerable hardships, and they have had little recourse because these victim groups wield considerable power and resources.
Both Laura Ahearn and Lauren Book could be called “The Untouchables,” and their actions towards me and towards others over the years have shown they actually believe they are above recourse. It is probably for that reason that David Fiege called his documentary about Ron and Lauren Book “Untouchable.” People like Ahearn and Book are in exalted positions within our society. Much like the sacred cows of India, they are free to roam wherever they want and do whatever they want. As Hindu follower De Sam Lazaro explained to PBS, “Cows are considered sacred in Hinduism. They’re the favorite animal of the deity Lord Krishna, and a symbol of wealth, strength and abundance.” While some people have been offended that I referred to leaders of the victim advocacy industry as “sacred cows,” the comparison is very accurate. The victim advocacy industry in this country also wields wealth, strength, and is abundant in our society. And much like those who venerate the sacred cow, those who venerate the victim advocacy industry will protect it at all costs.
There have been three eras of “Predator Panic” in America, according to historian Phillip Jenkins, with the first era active around the turn of the 20th century, and the second being the “sexual psychopath era” from the 1930s to the 1950s. Our current era of predator panic has been in full swing since the 1980s, save for a brief time that the Satanic Ritual Abuse moral panic was exposed as a fraud. There are a number of possible reasons as to why this particular era has endured while past waves of Predator Panic have subsided after a roughly 20 to 30 year period. While I cannot argue the victim industry alone is responsible for the enduring panic, it is certainly a major player in this role, and it is unique to our modern era. Unlike previous panics, private citizens (under the guise of working for grassroots campaigns to “help” victims of sex crimes) have banded together to greatly influence public policy. Obviously, the most famous of these is John Walsh, failing hotel manager turned celebrity victim advocate. Walsh was possibly the first to turn victim advocacy into a multimillion dollar capitalist venture. The NCMEC, Walsh’s legacy, collects over $50 million per year, mainly from taxpayer dollars, much of it coming from the controversial law named after John Walsh’s murdered son.
While those of us seeking to reform the registry, residency restriction laws, and other post-release sanctions recognize the role of the victim advocacy industry in promoting these laws through propaganda and dubious studies, few of us are willing to speak out against them or challenge them whenever they lied to the people. I can understand the fear; these groups have millions of dollars and powerful people to back them up. Very few registered persons have jobs, and fewer have jobs that pay sufficient wages. Aside from Jeffrey Epstein or perhaps Mike Tyson, I doubt any of us could come up with a name on the registry of someone with considerable wealth. As a result of the victim industry’s wealth and the lack of it from registered persons, many people within the anti-registry movement are shackled with fear of lawsuits and already afraid to speak out against these organizations.
Like many of you on the registry, I am extremely poor. I have lived on disability for over a decade, living off a mere $755 monthly check, $194 in food stamps, and a little utility assistance from PIPP (the HEAP program Trump is trying to kill). There are no advantages to living a life of poverty except for one; I am well below the poverty line, and do not have any assets that could be seized if somebody sues me successfully. My disability check is “untouchable”. My meager possessions also “untouchable”. Because of my disability, it is extremely unlikely that I will ever “lift myself up by the bootstraps” and join the rat race for the mythical “American dream”.
As many of you know by now, last year I was sued by Parents For Megan’s Law in retaliation for protesting at their headquarters in Ronkonkoma, NY. This lawsuit is part of a continuous campaign to silence critics of their controversial compliance check contract with Suffolk County. (As an aside, there does not seem to be evidence that this contract was renewed for 2017.) The reason I have not spoken about this lawsuit in the past year is because there is not much to discuss at this time. Only after an entire year had passed had the courts made any action on this case; as of April, the court has tossed out seven of the nine complaints against me, and my attorneys (paid for by a free-speech organization) are now countersuing PFML. This case could take years to resolve. However, it is not about whether or not any of you like the way I approach this issue or speak about it, it is about our right to even speak against or criticize the victim advocacy industry in any way.
On July 31, 2017, I received a cryptic text from an individual on Twitter claiming I am “in a bit of a bind” in Broward County and then asked how I was going to “dodge this.” I was perplexed by the tweet, and after some research I discovered that back on the 27th, Lauren Book tried, and failed, to file a restraining order against me to prevent me from protesting her March across Florida. She cited my peaceful protest against or organization in 2015 along with my appearance at the Tribeca film Festival to watch the “Untouchable” documentary and a random Twitter post to claim that I was “stalking” her. The judge has denied the Temporary Restraining Order, but the case is still pending as of this writing.
While this lawsuit is no doubt frivolous and an attempt to chill my right to free-speech, I still have to take time out of my busy life to prepare an adequate defense. This may include traveling to Fort Lauderdale on a moment’s notice at a cost of hundreds of dollars I cannot afford to spend. However, if I neglect to respond to this frivolous allegation, then the Books may win by default. While some of you might not enjoy my confrontational style of legal reform, keep in mind these organizations could try the same tricks to prevent you from even mild criticism or works against the principles for which they stand.
Our movement is fragmented and we do not agree on many issues in this movement, including how to approach a topic, the right words to say, and in some cases even the ultimate goal of our efforts. However, we must support the right of everyone in this movement to say what they think, even when we disagree.
Returning to the analogy of the sacred cow, times in India are changing. Cows have indeed been sacred for thousands of years in India, but thanks to globalization and urban growth, not everybody in India venerates the cow. To a growing number of Indians, cows in urban environments are becoming nuisances, causing traffic jams and creating waste. (Think cow meets truck. Think cow pies. Think barn smell.) Immigrants to the nation don’t venerate the cow; in many places across the globe, cows are food. Cows provide much of the world with meat, milk, and leather to wear or to use in a variety of other projects. We love our cows in America, albeit with baked potatoes and possibly some A1 steak sauce.
As in Urban India, the “sacred cows” of American culture have become a nuisance that needs to be addressed. That isn’t to say that the victim advocacy industry is completely useless; indeed, many victims of crime have issues that need to be addressed. But long ago, victim advocate groups have strayed from helping crime victims recover and have focused on promoting more “tough on crime laws.” Much like the sacred cows tying up traffic in urban India, victim advocate groups attempt to set up roadblocks to any legal reforms of the registry. Many of these organizations have also propagated some of the largest myths we routinely address any time be focused on legal reforms. That is why addressing the victim advocacy industry should be a greater focus of our movement. But don’t take my word for it, take it from Samantha Geimer, the woman at the focus of the Roman Polanski rape case from the 1970s, but refuses to refer to herself as a “victim:”
“We have what I think of as a victim industry in this country, and industry populated by Nancy Grace and Dr. Phil and Gloria Allred and all those who make money by manufacturing outrage. I’ve been part of it. If you spent years reading about yourself in the papers with the moniker ‘Sex Victim Girl,’ you’d have a lot to say about this issue, too. But for now I’ll leave it at this: It is wrong to ask people to feel like victims, because once they do, they feel like victims in every area of their lives. I made a decision: I wasn’t going to be a victim of anyone or for anyone. Not Roman, not the state of California, not the media. I wasn’t going to be defined by what is said about me or expected from me.”
Humans have to survive, and for many of us, survival includes meat. You can look at meat in the context of my essay as either literally (in the form of a delicious cheeseburger) or figuratively (in the form of the tools needed to survive, like shelter for a job). I am not knocking India or its culture, nor am I knocking anyone’s belief in any religion. However, as somebody who once experienced homelessness and what it means to go hungry, I could not imagine being poor in India, starving myself to death, with a delicious cheeseburger on legs walking by. In the “Untouchable” film, there is a clip of one of America’s sacred cows (Ron Book) sitting in a fancy restaurant ordering a meal that cost more than some people make in a week. That clip was contrasted with one of the homeless registrants living in Hialeah. Ask yourself at this point if it is important to continue to venerate America’s “sacred cow” as you continue to live in squalor simply because the sacred cow commands it? How long will you continue to starve yourself to death and curse the ground as the sacred cows live in their ivory towers? I know I cannot speak for everyone, but I can certainly speak for myself, and I am not content with starvation and homelessness. What about you?
Samantha Geimer, excerpt from her book, “The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski.” (pgs. 9-10)
India’s Sacred Cows, PBS.org, February 27, 2015 <http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/2015/02/27/february-7-2014-indias-sacred-cows/21993/>
Derek W. Logue, Reform Advocate